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tv   Book Discussion on Christianity and Politics  CSPAN  March 9, 2014 1:30pm-1:54pm EDT

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pecknold. what do you teach? >> guest: i teach catholic theology. a range of course, the course related to this book is called "political theology." so i think a lot about the relation between the church and the state, its historical relationship and theological and political importance for our thinking today. >> host: let's start toward the end of the book, which is, is democracy connected to christianity? >> guest: at the end of the book i explore the idea of democracy's restless desire, call it. why does democracy have this inherent sort of sense of progress? what is it going for? does democracy have an end? what is the ultimate aim of democracy? and i connect this idea to what theologians talk about is our natural desire for god. all human beings have this
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restlessness. the heart's restless and -- i asked the question, could that be true of politics, too? that democratic restlessness, certain sort of desire for hoytal progress, does that also -- historical process, does that have a restlessness built into it? and is god the end of that? so i asked the question about the restless desire. >> host: do you answer the question? >> guest: in a sense. i want the question to work on us before i want to immediately answer it. i suppose if you press me for an answer, my answer would be that, in a sense, yeah, augustine's answer is the city of god, is the final desire for democracy, that democracy is the desire for, in seasons, to participate in power and for everyone to be able to have a full part, and augustine believes -- one of the great inspirations of the
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book -- the only way in which we can all have a full part in god's divine justice and divine power and love, is in the city of god. and so the final answer really is that, that the christian answer is that the eternal city, the heavenly city, the heavenly jerusalem, however you want to national it, is precisely what democracy is aiming for, but often doesn't know it. >> host: was christ political? >> guest: well, he certainly says, my kingdom is not of this world. so, that kind of says, yes and no. so jesus is political in the sense that he says, my kingdom. and is, we say he is not political or he is super political when he said, it's not of this world. and so i suppose throughout this little book is that question
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about christianity's church a church that is interested in politics, interested in the way in which human beings can figure their goods in common, for common life, but also is constantly pushing on the restless desire of an object which transcends politics. in this sense we have a vision of christ as offering political transcendens as a way of showing the limits of politics. >> host: at what point did the catholic church become super political or political. >> one of the ways i try to answer that question here is the idea of christ's mystical bottle, and it's the idea of -- in the latin language, the
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mystical body of christ is this truly human, drewly divine body in christian teaching. now, if you think about that in terms of christ's own life, this is central to christian claims, not a surprise -- but is central to christian think about the eucharist, so the eucharist, which is the gift that christ gives himself, he ascended into heaven but leaves the eucharist, the last supper in which that constitutes the church, and the early church called the eucharist the mystical body of christ. a cardinal in the church in the 20th century made a very interesting discovery about how the church began to change the way it spoke about the corpus so by the medieval catholic church, by the time of the medieval catholic church you had church men talking about the church itself as the mystical body.
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no longer the eucharist. sometimes the uke crist was called the mystical body but start ted be called the true body, and the church became the mystical body. well, if the mystical body is both human and divine, then the church has a human political aspect and a divine transcendent suspect. so you see for example in popes and in kings in the medieval world, the way in which they exchange back and forth different symbolic attributes, so a king might wear papal shoes. we saw in the media about pope benedict's red shoes you. might see a pope holding a mite -- mitre or a king's crown so this exchange back and forth in medieval christiandom in which the king was christian, the pope was christian, and you
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had a sense of temporal power and spiritual power mixed constantly, exchanged back and forth. that's part of the transfer between thinking of the eucharist as the mystical body, to thinking of the church as the mystical body: then the interesting thing occurs that, as you think about the church as mystical body, you start to think entirely social and political terms about that. so, the church encompasses the whole order of europe, if you asked a medieval european, what they were, they wouldn't say, i'm french or i'm german or i'm italian. they usually say i'm catholic and i'm from this town. and that sense of the church, ordering the whole of society, meant that the idea of the mystical body could transfer from the eucharist to the church to society as a whole. and so he tracks as does the
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political historian from berkeley, this history of the migration of the mystical body as i call it, or the migrations of the holy, and that migration moves from uke crist to church to society. then in the early modern period i trace how that problematically begins to transfer to state societies in which early nation state formations gather up a lot of these ideas about the mystical body and attribute them to early ideas about nation state formation. >> host: so, professor, is this a primmer for activist, for christian activists? >> guest: i don't think so. it's really just -- i wrote it for my students so that i wasn't simply throwing a bunch of primary texts about them because i want them to learn the sources, but i wanted them to have some sort of easily digestible guide so when they're
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reading the sources they have some sort of way of linking the texts and finding a sense of meaning in history, that there is a kind of coherence to the relationship between christianity and politics, though it might not always about the coherence we're most comfortable with or that has been the most -- >> liberation theology. what. >> guest: not touched upon in the book but an important strand of 20th century catholic thought emerging out latin america, it is attentive to how local communities experience the oppression of eleak political actor -- elite political actors and learns from marxist theory and learns a lot from catholic theology but not reducible to catholic theology. it was certainly problematic in some instances, but, for
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example, gustavo gutierrez and joseph ratzinger had discussions and liberating base communities from especially this systemic economic oppression that arises not only out of capitalism but out of the ways in which states depend on capitalism and promote capitalism, and the way in which the economic and the political, the market and the state, perpetuate economic injustice. so liberation theology, you push that strand -- some ways pushed to hard as far as the catholic church was concerned in certain directions the church was worried about, but in other ways i think it finding in pope francis a kind of at least re-evaluation. >> host: pope francis political?
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>> guest: well, he'll be receiving president obama in march. he is making a visit to america for the world meeting of families next year. it does seem there's a sense in which he is of interest to politicians. of course there will be the photo ops of the pope and the president shaking hands and amiably so, i'm sure. there will be certain kinds of news stories which stress their common economic vision and that sort of thing. but i think the ways in which pope francis is not political is more interesting than the ways he is political. the ways in which francis is pointing to something which is in a sense the priority of the person, that the person is prior
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to the interests of the state, and that the person should transcend the interests of the state. that in a since he is continually pushing on the question of, who is the state really serving? and also the question, who is the market really serving? is the state and the market ordered to the needs of the human person or are they self-perpetuating a kind of self-interest of the powerful? and that's, i think, super political question that francis has a kind of transcendent vision which is allowing him to push that in a way that is credible to people. >> host: what about john paul ii is he political? >> guest: in the sense that the papacy is of interest to politics because it has influence over human beings and politics is interested in human beings relating to each other and the vision of the common
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good. the social teaching that developed under john paul ii did seem to some, george wild was interests in pushing a line that suggested the social teaching favor evidence capitalism, and that the prior tradition seemed always to be critical of capitalism and that john paul ii developed things in a way which put forward a more favor able view of capital limp, at least a sort of -- that capitalism was an anathema to be spared of. i don't think that the contrasts that maybe some might want to make between francis and john paul ii is really there, though. what francis is interested in is not a sort of destruction of capitalism, it seems to me, but
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a critique of ideologies which would structure a defied market which would think that the market was something which people should serve rather than a market which serves the person. >> host: professor, pecknold, if a student dids you as a christian what is my duty to serve in politics? do i have a duty to serve in politics? what's the answer? >> guest: i think the answer is that a christian should see politics as a noble venture that they can certainly pursue, about the christian brings, i think, much needed perspective that paul -- politics has limits and politics depends on social, personal goods prior to politics, and which that guides
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the christian call to politics to see that politics isn't the solution to everything, that everything shouldn't be ordered to the needs of politics. and so i think the christian who sees politics as a noble task also sees politics as a very limited task and will privilege things like the family and the church and freedom of human communities to gather free from state intervention or with minimal state intervention. so i think the augustinian vision of a limited view of politics comes out in the book. >> host: what have been some of the bad experiences in the intersection of christianity and politics? >> guest: well, i mean, the unjust wielding of political influence certainly has the borges written all over it, the borges popes. there's a common narrative about
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pope gregly lxx who is famous in the so-called investty tour controversies where kings were trying to select their own bishops, and the pope quite rightly said, no, the church selects wish shops. kings don't select bishops. i think this generated a certain kind of conflict that is maybe regrettable. what pope gregory did, for example, was to say that, well, kings really have no status or practically no status. he gave kings the status of below deacons, kings have very low status in the church and wouldn't have any power to do anything, let alone appoint bishops. and this kind of demotion of the place of the king i income mid e -- i think in medieval culture
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was probably perpetuated tensions between temporal and spiritual power that is regrettable. but i think it was right for popes to protect the freedom of the church to appoint their own bishops. we're seeing that now in america in and the question whether the church is free do what it thinks as right. for example, the recent stay of -- for the little sisters of the poor against the state mandating that they follow the hhs is a clear kind of reiteration of those investty tour controversies. just the way in which those stories are cautionary about the relationship not work out well in the medieval period, there's
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lessons to be learned for our contemporary situation where the state ought not to be telling the church what to do. >> host: what is the painting on the front? >> guest: a painting they chose. i like it. i'm glad you observed that. it is a crossing of the river tiger in rome and there's a sense in which that is a fitting picture. i didn't choose it but i asked for it, pia tone, and that's what i asked to and they those the boat, which way is it going, going towards rome or is it going away from -- is it going -- is rom moving towards the church or moving away from the church you get that ambiguity in that etching which is nice and goes to the heart of the book. i didn't intend that but you're
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right, to point your finger at that. >> host: with vatican city on one side and the -- >> guest: that's the restless desire of democracy, too. does it go in a direction which is friendly to the church or hostile to the church. that's the question, maybe the ambiguity of that painting suggests -- charles taylor wrote a magnificent book called "a secular age" which is about 900 pages rather than 150 or so like this book. but in it he talks about needing to recover a certain sense of optionality. that secular society is in danger of getting -- becoming intolerant and losing a sense of optionality, that christianity is about the freedom to choose to participate in god's love,
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and if you create a secular society in which it is no longer possible to choose god or to choose the freedom of participating in the life of the church, that's going create more problems than you know how to deal with, and he nicely recommends a sort of getting away from this exclusive humanism in which we can only thing about the human person apart from god, and think about a greater sense of recovering, a vision of the person who has the freedom to choose god. >> host: catholic bishops making statements on birth control or gay marriage. the moral majority, large mega protestant churches involved in politics. john paul ii, solidarity. are these healthy for both christianity and politics? >> guest: well, there's a lot in
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this. some things are healthy and some things are not healthy. we have constructed our american political discourse in way which are driven on conflicts between left and right, and this is almost built into the dna of political liberalism. that political liberalism is built on -- not that you have conservatives -- you have conservatives who are-have their roots in political liberalism and they represent two sides of the same coin. they both come out of the social contract tradition, one pushing on classical libballism, the other put only a more progressivist -- more
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progressive liberal stance, but that conflict is a conflict internal to liberalism, and to the extent that that dynamic, that left-right divide, which is really like country and western music -- you can really distinguish them, but they're part of the same family of music or politics on the analogy. so i think when we see that being put on to how we think about christians, how we think about the church, what we then do is we use this artificial rubric for understanding something which long precedes political liberalism. the church is much more ancient than political liberalism, much more ancient than the conservative-libballism divide. so when we use that calculus to line up what christianity
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means -- we see this with pope francis all the time. now we have the conservative pope ben expect the liberal pope francis and all these commentators saying, you can't really do that, but the narrative is so powerful that we can't really push through it. and so that to me is the most vicious aspect of all those trends, is that you end up not understanding the dynamics you're trying to describe. you end up using the preexisting rubric of political liberalism to describe the nature of christianity, which is a problem. >> host: cc pecknold, teaches theology, the author of this primmer, christianity and politics: a brief guide to the history." you're watching booktv on c-span2.
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